THE RESORT AND ITS HISTORY

Culture & heritage

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Intro

Avoriaz is much more than just a ski resort. With its outstanding cliff-top location and a unique style that hasn't failed to provoke some lively debate, it has a great tale to tell. So here it is, the fabulous story of this mountain village and how it became the resort we know today.

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GENESIS OF THE RESORT

THE RESORT IS BUILT ON A PLATEAU WHICH ONCE BELONGED TO THE COUNTS OF ROVORÉE, AN ILLUSTRIOUS FAMILY FROM THE CHABLAIS REGION

These Alpine pastures were acquired by the municipality of Morzine and became the lands of "Rovorée" before the first syllable was transformed to give them the name "Avorée". Over time, they became "Avoréaz" and, eventually, Avoriaz.
With their timber plank walls and slate roofs, the old chalets bear witness to a time when this extremely dry and infertile plateau was used only as grazing land. In the spring, herdsmen and shepherds drove their livestock up the mountain, and took them back down to the valley in autumn. The fact that the Alpine chalets were therefore only occupied during the warmer months explains their very basic design and their unsuitability for winter living.

Nevertheless, there were a few people who didn't hesitate to tackle the deep blanket of snow that covered the entire landscape, just for the pleasure of skiing down the slopes of the Chavanette and Hauts-Forts summits that towered above the Avoréaz plateau. Jean Vuarnet was one of them. Born in Morzine, he achieved fame after becoming the Olympic Downhill Champion at Squaw Valley in 1960.

 

When he returned to Morzine, he could think of nothing but his new challenge: to make the beautiful snowy slopes of Avoréaz accessible to all skiing fans and create a purpose-built resort, right there, from scratch... Hard to believe when you think of that deserted plateau surrounded by rock faces and sparsely dotted with mountain chalets abandoned by the men of the valley taking refuge from the harsh winters. Jean Vuarnet recalls, "As a lover of skiing on spring snow, I couldn't wait to discover this site in winter. For the people of Morzine it was like going to Alaska!" But he needed a partner in real estate who would have the necessary expertise and sufficient financial solidity to cope with such an investment.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE RESORT

He found what he was looking for when Robert Brémond suggested that his son, Gérard Brémond - who was later to become the founder and chairman of the Pierre & Vacances group - manage the entire operation from A to Z. So Gérard called upon a young team or architects who had barely finished their studies: Jacques Labro, Jean-Jacques Orzoni and Jean-Marc Roques (the latter was still a Fine Arts student at the time). Together, they came up with a new concept in ski resorts, as outlined by Gérard Brémond: "When people go on holiday, they're looking for a change of scene to get away from the daily grind." 

Therefore, no cars would be allowed in Avoriaz.

The heating would be electric, which didn't pollute like oil heating, and the streets would become ski slopes. The architectural design would be innovative, yet modest, and blend with the surroundings. You can just imagine the outcry that followed these proposals!
 

AVORIAZ WAS CREATED ON PAPER ON 28 DECEMBER 1962

The municipality of Morzine signed an agreement authorising the developer to create the skiing areas and operate the ski lifts. They were modest beginnings; the Tête aux Boeufs slope was equipped with one chairlift and one drag lift. The "Pas du Lac" featured the resort's only restaurant and bar which was also the reception area, and the backroom served as a dormitory for members of the ski patrol. Jean Vuarnet was proud of his new refuge: "At last I was to find out if skiers would be interested in this spectacular site."
 

 

#ARCHITECTURE

 

Quote

"As a lover of skiing on spring snow, I couldn't wait to discover this site in winter. For the people of Morzine it was like going to Alaska!

Jean Vuarnet

The festival

Yes, it's time we mentioned the festival. The resort had barely opened and Gérard Brémond needed to make it known to the public. He was In search of an idea that would propel Avoriaz into the headlines, when he met Lionel Chouchan, who suggested organising a film festival in Avoriaz devoted only to the fantastic. The special, troubling astmosphere of the Dromonts village, draped in snow and often shrouded in mist, no doubt inspired Lionel Chouchan. It was a risky move, especially as that cinema genre was in decline during the 60s and 70s, with second-rate films that were badly shot and quickly forgotten after being screened at two for the price of one. Since 1973, its very first year, the Festival du Film Fantastique d'Avoriaz has attracted and revealed film-makers who are now well-established, including Steven Spielberg who won the Grand Prix in 1973 with Duel, as well as David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Brian de Palma, Georges Miller, Luc Besson, and many more. Between 1994 and 1996, the Fantastic Film Festival of Avoriaz stepped aside to make way for the French Film Festival.

The ski area

While the resort was being built and the ski area created, the Falaise district took shape in line with the architectural style of its beginnings. The Sepia and Epicea apartment blocks emerged, and the municipal bulidings and nursery were the final touch to the fully-fledged resort. The resort has evolved from its founding principles yet remains loyal to them, with its buildings of timber and stone that blend perfectly into the natural surroundings of cliffs, forests and alpine pastures. The unusual choice to plan a car-free, fully integrated ski-to-door resort with non-pollutant electric heating now forces the admiration of other resorts who, thirty years on, are following suit. Proud of its beginnings, the resort is about to reach the zenith of its era as it strives to anchor its identity in its most precious asset: it's environment. When you stay in Avoriaz, you discover a land that's steeped in history. Avoriaz is truly protected from the folly of man and has succeeded in retaining its authenticity and originality. Avoriaz remains a jewel among French ski resorts and aims to provide the perfect escape from day-to-day life, allowing families and friends to recharge their batteries in a ski-in-ski-out, vehicle-free heaven for children. Avoriaz is the stuff of legends, historical tales and memorable adventures, and deserves a little attention.

The Architecture

Besides the well-equipped ski area, Avoriaz is of architectural interest too. Mimetic, contemporary, sensitive, fantastical, baroque, avant-garde... this fascinating architecture has given rise to many interpretations. Yet Jacques Labro, one of the three architects, has no rational explanation for the style of Avoriaz. "The style is inherent to each architect who has his own way of doing things and the nature and period of the project can also have an impact." The truth is, their work is guided by a single concept for a design that fits the mountain setting without ressembling a Savoie chalet or competing with urban dimensions. The architects have strived to match their shapes, volumes and materials with the surrounding landscape. The Sosna, Thuya and Araucarya buildings, as well as the opposite chalets, are the best demonstration of this; their architectural design is in harmony with the natural decor. They leave the beaten track, take liberties with verticality and are disloyal to right-angled traditions. The roofs have extended their slopes to the ground, helping to stabilise the snow that covers the buildings throughout the winter. The only concession made to local tradition is the use of timber tiles to cover the walls. These used to cover most of the roofs of Savoie. Here, they are also known as Shingles, as they're made from a red cedarwood that originates from Canada. The timber is deliberately left untreated to allow time and the elements to give it its hues; south-facing façades turn to a mink-grey, north walls become ash-grey, and those facing east or west take on a reddish brown colour. Place des Dromonts is the resort's historical centre, the square where the "mountain-inspired" architecture is best expressed. The exuberant lobby of the Dromonts hotel is itself a complete demonstration of the spirit that reigned during the first stages of the construction work, with all its nooks and crannies, split-level features, extravagant flights of stairs, intersecting walkways, and oven-shaped fireplaces. The designers of Dromonts village won the Equerre d'Argent architecture prize in 1968, attracting photographers who "hid" on the stairs to capture the Festival stars before they disappeared into the darkness of the screening rooms.